Dziga Vertov (born David Kaufman in Ukraine) specialized in a hybrid of documentary, fiction, and propaganda that demonstrated his theories of montage by combining footage into forceful, meaningful motions and a sense of life, action, and progress. His work is showcased on a new Blu-ray anchored on an astoundingly clear print of his 1929 masterpiece The Man with a Movie Camera. What the viewer sees is a full-frame silent print (nothing lopped off the sides), struck from the negative, that Vertov himself left in Amsterdam; missing bits have been restored, including chapter numbers and a brief shot of a baby’s birth. The Alloy Orchestra’s score is based on Vertov’s notes. Although these features are excellent, don’t get rid of the 2002 Image DVD if you have it, which has critical commentary, or the 2003 Kino DVD with Michael Nyman’s score.
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The paradoxical title of Hard to Be a God matches the paradox of its artistry in that its brilliant success makes it a tough sell for many viewers.
There are plenty for whom the phrase “three-hour black and white Russian film” already makes them reach for their gun, and this specimen immerses audiences in a free-floating fetid stew of medieval mud and bodily fluids populated by gibbering idiots and pustulant drunkards constantly spitting or upchucking. This grim panorama presents itself in the patented Russian manner of vivid historical cinema: a restless handheld camera (of which the gesturing characters are aware) executing complex pans and queasy staggers and focal shifts while looking up everyone’s nostrils. You can almost smell the farts and pop the zits.
At the start of A Town Called Hell (1971) the always fantastic Robert Shaw, in what is arguably his only foray into the spaghetti western genre, goes by the name Aguila and is shown leading an army of Mexican revolutionaries as they brutally shoot down a group of federal soldiers along with every nearby innocent.
Ten years goes by, and we see that this Aguila has forsaken his name and become a priest of a small village in an attempt to hide from his past. But when a widow named Alvira (Stella Stevens), whose husband was one of the murdered innocents, arrives to the town, Aguila’s past comes back to haunt him.
Kids, there was a time when your dads (but probably not your moms) wandered the aisles of video stores looking for tapes (remember when we talked about tapes? and video stores?) to sate their quest for offbeat treasures. The sections for horror, sci-fi, and action could yield nuggets if you checked every unfamiliar direct-to-video box.
It was around 1992 that many of us felt a spidey-tingle when we picked up a box with an elegant black design that said the director was Brian Yuzna, the producer of Re-Animator. That had been a cult hit in theatres that grossed everybody out. What was he doing now that we hadn’t heard of? Not only wasn’t it hitting theatres (or not many), it turned out he’d made it in 1989 and it sat of the shelf.
Retaliation is a Japanese yakuza action movie with style and attitude. When the hulking Jiro (Akira Kobayashi) gets out of prison after eight years, he’s recruited to play two gangs against each other in a real-estate deal (getting farmers to sell their land for a factory) on behalf of a third gang that’s supporting his old fourth gang that now consists of himself, a blood brother, and their ailing godfather. Hanging around Jiro all the time, while remaining aloof and cynical, is the brother (Jo Shishido of the pouchy cheeks) of the man he killed eight years ago, who vows to kill him when all this bothersome business is over.
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